By: Nu Yang
Every journalist has that editor. The one who pushed, mentored, challenged and motivated you to become a better journalist. For some reporters, that editor was Ben Bradlee. The longtime Washington Post editor passed away Oct. 21 at the age of 93. After his death, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, reporters Bradlee famously led during the Watergate scandal, remembered their editor as “fierce” and a “truth seeker above all.” Bradlee not only transformed the field of journalism, but he transformed the lives of two young reporters.
For me, my Ben Bradlee was a man named Bill Brown. I started my journalism career a few years out of college as a staff writer for the weekly Allegan County News in Allegan, Mich. Bill was a terrific editor, who always kept his door open for his reporters and for readers. He was known for two things: his op-ed column that wasn’t afraid to call out local politicians and cause a little bit of debate to circulate around the county, and his catch phrase “Not bad for an old guy.”
Thanks to Bill, I learned how to ask the right questions, tell a good story and build contacts in the community. I welcomed visits from Bill whenever he stopped by my desk to discuss a story, but as a young reporter, I don’t think I fully appreciated that extra attention. Looking back, I can now understand he was helping me develop better stories.
Bill was in his seventh year as editor when he passed away in November 2008 at the age of 77. When you work for a small newspaper, you not only write the stories but you layout the newspaper as well—and I was the one tasked with laying out Bill’s obituary the week after he passed. It was a very somber experience, but on the other hand, the paper was also filled with fond memories of Bill written by staff members. I saved a hard copy of that issue and recently pulled it out of storage in order to write this editorial. Those fond memories came rushing back to me, in particular a moment I mentioned in my write-up where I shared one of the last things Bill told me in the office before he became ill. He said I wrote with heart, and that’s something I’ve taken and applied in all my writing endeavors.
And isn’t that the best way to honor those editors who have molded and shaped us? To carry their encouraging, and sometimes tough, words into the stories we put out? I think so.
In this month’s issue, we discuss the future of storytelling (bit.ly/1yd54it) and the many emerging platforms and technologies now available. Somewhere, there’s a young journalist updating a Twitter account, creating a video gallery, or coding a website page, but rest assured, there’s an editor telling him he can do it better.
We also recognize our EPPY winners (bit.ly/1BDBcCi) this month, and we’re reminded of the new and exciting things occurring in newsrooms around the world. In some of them, editors are now known as content strategists, but their role should remain the same. To push, mentor, challenge and motivate journalists to improve in their craft.